Kathy Chin Leong
King of the Yees
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
King of the Yees is a touching, semi-autobiographical play about a Chinese-American father and daughter who cannot understand one another no matter how hard they try. Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the plot zeroes in on Larry Yee who has dedicated his life to the Yee Fong Toy Association, a tight-knit family organization. He cannot comprehend why his daughter Lauren lives so far away in New York to pursue her career.
In the story, Lauren has returned to San Francisco to celebrate her father’s 60th birthday. They argue as Lauren challenges the necessity of family associations which she feels are male-dominated and obsolete. Afterwards, Larry is nowhere to be found. Lauren searches desperately, entering the old world of Chinatown, encountering ghosts of ancestors and notorious characters that make up Chinatown’s history.
In 2014, playwright Lauren Yee wrote King of the Yees as a tribute to her father who grew up in Chinatown’s Ping Yuen housing projects. She trod its streets with her parents as a child and attended many family association banquets. However, Lauren could not identify with the noisy, crowded enclave since they lived in another San Francisco neighborhood, and she did not speak Chinese. She says it took years to appreciate Chinatown’s many complexities and figure out how Chinatown fits into her identity. The play, which was performed in early 2019 at the San Francisco Playhouse, stirs up questions about the future and traditions of Chinatown. Says Lauren, “What is the loss if San Francisco Chinatown ceases to exist? What do you do with the cultural relics? Some version of Chinatown will always exist, but its character will always be changing.”